Learnings of PyConDE 2016

In late October 2016, we organized the PyCon.de, the main Python developer conference in Germany. With four parallel tracks, it had over 50 activities by speakers and trainers from all around Europe. We started from scratch and made it happen within five insane months. However, it was not only luck that helped, but a good plan and budget that turned out to be quite accurate. I will gladly share some insights from our story and try to simplify the job for anyone planning something similar.

People

The community is definitely the heart of developer events. In the beginning, people are mostly alone, so it is an organizer’s task to bring them all together and keep the atmosphere friendly, relaxed and uniting. It’s vital to avoid splitting the audience into “experts” and “listeners.”

It’s cool if everyone feels like they are part of something big, and the international scope of an event boosts this feeling. For example, here is our guests’ country list: Germany, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Ukraine, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Spain, UK, USA, Croatia, Salvador, and the Maldives. Of course, 35 percent of attendees were from Munich, but knowing that even one person came all the way from Maldives or Salvador just to attend this conference makes everyone feel great.

Diversity is often misunderstood. It’s not about the gender or sexual preference of your attendees, it’s about their diverse backgrounds in general: age, gender, professional experience, countries, languages, etc. The more you mix, the cooler it is. Just make sure the conference topic is still relevant.

Content

Our survey showed that people attend conferences 40 percent for learning, 40 percent for fun, and the remaining 20 percent for job search, headhunting, PR etc. So first of all, take care of your content. Our conference was running in four parallel tracks, mostly talks and workshops. It seemed like a great setup for learning, but we got mixed feedback about this: it is cool to have a choice of four tracks, but annoying when you want to see it all. Conclusion: take quality over quantity. Everyone will be perfectly happy with one or two tracks if the content is good.

Another significant step to support the community is an introduction session at the beginning of the conference. This way you open doors to newcomers.

Fun

As already mentioned, people come for learning and fun. Mix your learning sessions with raffles, games, surprises, and interactive stuff. Do not forget about organizing a conference party.

Try to prepare something special for the event that everyone will remember. For a true Python conference, we decided to put a terrarium with a real African Python in our venue, and hire a trainer to take the snake out and let people take photos with it. OMG. Everyone loved it.

Finally, many of the guests see a conference as a city break opportunity; therefore, getting a venue not too far from downtown is always nice.

Budget

Having a detailed, well-calculated budget is essential. It can be a simple spreadsheet adjusted every day, but at any point in time, it should show a clear picture of where you currently stand financially.

Typically, from 20 to 40 percent of the conference income comes from sponsors, and the rest from ticket sales. Expenses: up to 50 percent is catering, then venue and services. Your budget should have best-case and worst-case scenarios, adjusting in between on the fly.

Worth mentioning that organizing a conference for profit is a bad idea. It could work, but cool conferences reinvest their income to make it even cooler. Organization implies taking many risks and investing lots of time, while doing a relaxed developer job is much more profitable.

On the other hand, do not be shy about charging a reasonable amount for tickets. There are always people who complain about high prices, but good quality does not come cheap, at least not in Munich. In the best case, a financial aid program should help people who can’t afford the conference, but the rest should pay a full reasonable price.

Crew

In the end, everything written above depends on one thing: a good crew.

Getting a crew is not easy since it’s about asking people to do real work and making sure it’s done right. But when you are well motivated, your enthusiasm is contagious and you can ‘infect’ someone among your friends, colleagues, and local user groups. Always keep your crew fit, motivated and appreciated. Set clear responsibilities and deadlines, as for a real job. If someone keeps postponing tasks he will demotivate the rest. For some tasks, it’s easier to hire a freelancer. Keep in mind that if nobody is doing some annoying task, the main organizer has to do it. Putting together a good crew pays back: you will end up with super reliable and trustworthy friends.

Thanks for reading. We organized this conference for fun, experience, and networking. And, well, because I can. If I can do it, you can do it too. Good luck!

Love the post? Hate the post? Have other ideas? Please leave a comment below!

P.S. It was a huge effort and a huge success thanks to our awesome crew: Uliana, Alexandre, Mike, Max, Reimar, Alexander, Thomas, Alisa, Ivan, Michael, Joe, Inci; and sponsors: ProSieben, Skoobe, JetBrains, TrustYou, PythonAcademy, PSF, PySV, Microsoft, Flying Circus, Social Sweethearts, and Tech Connect. Trust and devotion mean a lot. Thanks!

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